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How Discovering Sawtona Changed the Way I Saw the Palestinian Issue

No, you’re not a Zionist for thinking that BDS might actually be hurting Palestinians
If you ever have the opportunity to actually visit Palestine, you may come realize that Palestine is made up of real people, real individuals. I was lucky enough to take a trip there around a year ago.

Before that point, though, even while passionate about the Palestinian entity, I would find myself relying on tropes of Palestinians. I would make a mock calculation in my head that goes like this: Palestinians suffer X amount because of Israeli Crimes 1,2,3.Boycott Israel

For a long time this was my concept of Palestine: a place and a people with predefined characteristics, a people with the same desires and grievances and politics; a homogenous nations comprised of the generic Palestinian. Picture what you will.

But all of this changed when I actually visited the place and got to see Palestine for what it truly was: a place like any other with a diverse population of human beings – all deserving of the rights afforded to anybody else on the planet. These include the right to housing, hygiene, food, self-preservation and of course, self-determination on both an individual and national level.

In the eyes of many of the Palestinians that I met, the occupation is an untenable crime against all of these aforementioned rights. I wholeheartedly agree. However, upon my return to my Pro-Palestinian activities, what I saw was a very monolithic way of perceiving Palestinian pain, and how to deal with it. There was this mentality that creates a very clear distinction of “with us” or “against us” simply based on whether one agrees with the details of a particular agenda or not.

But in Palestine, this anger manifests is just as diverse as the people themselves, and there exists genuine disagreement between its citizens. And that’s a good thing! Diversity is a good thing, isn’t it? This is how democracy thrives. By accepting the differences of others, even if those differences challenge one’s preconceived notions of right and wrong.
And this same principle should govern how pro-Palestinian activists relate to one another. We should band together for a common principle, which is the ultimate freedom of Palestine and the end of the occupation. We should openly debate the nitty-gritty, but with mutual respect for our mutual goals.

But unfortunately I haven’t seen that.

I fully stand behind Pro-Palestinian movements in almost every single way. But my one reservation is the effectiveness of boycotting all products made in Israel and the West Bank. When I started researching the issue I saw that the physical impact on Palestinians is ultimately negative. The facts don’t lie.

Yes, the BDS movement is a great way to rally support for Palestine and against the occupation. But Israel’s occupation has continued to flourish despite all the calls for boycotting, and the boycott movement have forced Israel to move factories that employ many Palestinians with comparatively good salaries. And meanwhile, the only thing these unlucky Palestinians have to cling onto is the idea of BDS and its support. It’s hard to even call it a political victory at this point.

Boycotts are a great thing, and I believe they play a role in the Palestinian cause. But there is a limit. I believe it must be more targeted on specific Israeli companies that have records of abusing Palestinian workers. This would be far more effective.

When I voiced my thoughts on this, I was immediately outcast. I was treated the same way one would treat a Zionist settler. I didn’t understand how the minutia of my passions for Palestinian freedom could suddenly throw me into the out-group.

And I didn’t reach this opinion on my own. I came to it from interacting with Palestinians on the ground, in their daily lives. I saw the daily struggle they go through. Just like any other occupied people, some benefit from the occupation. This is simply a reality of life there. And those people have a right to feed their families, too.

People like Sami, my Palestinian friend from Nablus, are affected by overly broad BDS tactics. He has many relatives who relied on their Israeli factory or construction jobs in the area to sustain themselves and feed their families. Now those jobs are disappearing, and his family is panicking because their options are running out.

I don’t think anyone could disagree that the intentions of BDS are noble. But in the case of real-life Palestinians, the road to hell is paved by these [misdirected] good intentions. In my opinion, the rights of Palestinians begin with their ability to Sawtonafeed themselves. That comes even before national determination.

This is why I started looking into an organization called Sawtona, or “Our Voice” in Arabic. They are a pro-Palestinian group that shares the real-life experiences of Palestinians under occupation who have different opinions, specifically about BDS.

Sawtona is all about Palestinians and their rights. What it fights is the kind of militant political dogmas one could find among Palestinian activists who claim they are representing and trying to help. But this kind of militancy is something we thought we’d see more from groups like AIPAC or other extreme Zionist institutions.

This isn’t some shameless plug. I had a genuine transformation long before I started reading Sawtona. Instead, my started developing thoughts of my own once I actually visited Palestine.

I saw the poverty. I saw the suffering. And we should do everything in our power to help.
Before you snicker and judge me; before you think you know better and start calling me a Zionist; before you think you have the moral high ground because you subscribe to every policy goal so-called Pro-Palestinian leaders tell you to support…read the facts. Look at the statistics. Visit Sawtona. You might emerge with a different perspective.

Like me, you might realize that there’s more than meets the eye in the fight for Palestinian rights.

Viva La Palestina.

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